Seasons Part 2 of 6

October 4th, 2013 | By Clint Foster No Comments

Seasons

On the shriek of the whistle, 18 pairs of sneakers thudded and squeaked across the floor. Hands slapped the half-court line of the basketball court as players turned around to return to the baseline. They panted, some with hands on knees, and cocked an ear to their coach.

“Final varsity squad will be decided today, ladies.”

The whistle blew.

“We take 12 on every road trip.”

The girls arrived back at their starting positions, ready to run again.

Whistle between her teeth, Coach Bailey grinned. Her cheeks puffed out as she blew a short ditty to signal that practice was over.

The relieved girls jogged to half-court and put their hands in a circle.

“Team on three. 1-2-3-“

“TEAM!”

In the locker room, Cassie untied the ankle brace from her left sock, rubbing some life back into her foot. The other girls all grouped together in threes or fours, but Cassie was alone in her corner of the room. As the lone underclassman remaining in the group of girls vying for a place on the varsity squad, she felt pressured to perform better. It also meant she didn’t know many of the girls she was practicing with.

The locker room door banged open. “Hey, Cassie, Coach wants to see you.”
Snickers followed her out the door. She kept her eyes on the floor, red in the face because she was certain she was about to be cut from the team.

Had she not run hard enough? Did she not shoot well today? She did everything right. She always got enough sleep and ate healthy meals to be sure her energy and attention span were good. She drank plenty of water to be sure she didn’t get fatigued during practices. She worked hard in class to make sure she could maintain academic eligibility. She was cooperative with her teammates and followed the coach’s instructions.

Maybe she could convince Coach that she’d had a bad day, that she’d keep working hard so it wouldn’t happen again. The white tiles of the floor did nothing to reassure her as she passed the rows and rows of trophies and All-State accolades lining the corridor. She knocked lightly on the wooden door. It cracked open slightly at her touch.

“Come on in.”

Already, Cassie’s throat felt tight. Tears all but welled in her eyes as she shuffled into the gloomy office and clasped her hands behind her back. “You wanted to see me?”

Coach Bailey smiled softly, waving her hand to one of the metal folding chairs in front of her desk. “Cassie, you’re a sophomore, correct?”

“Yes, Coach.”

“Any of the girls treating you poorly?”

Unsure of whether this was some kind of test, Cassie simply shook her head.

“It’s hard, ya know.”

Finally looking up, Cassie raised an eyebrow and almost whispered, “What is?”

“Cutting players.”

Cassie sniffed as she started to stand, her hand already on the doorknob.

“But so is starting as an underclassman.”

The young girl froze, heart thumping in her throat as she realized the meaning behind Coach Bailey’s words.

“I wanted to talk to you, Cassie, to tell you that you’re doing a great job. It’ll be a hard year for you. I know your older teammates will test you, and you’ll have to make some new friends on the varsity squad. But I wanted to say I’m proud of you, and I’m sure you’ll only get better. Now go shower. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

At school the next day, Cassie overheard her friends Ricky and Mick talking.

Mick started with, “It’s awesome that you get to be on the varsity squad this week, man. As a sophomore, too!”

Ricky flashed a grin and shrugged, “Nah, man, it’s nothing. I don’t even start. Yet! You made it onto the quiz bowl team, though! And you’re the captain!”

Mick’s smile broadened as he soaked in the praise from his friend. Mick had never been much of an athlete, even though he ran every day and tried to work out regularly. This year he’d tried out for quiz bowl and ended up getting the highest score on the team. He went to Ricky’s football games and Ricky came to Mick’s quiz bowl tournaments, and afterward they’d grab a smoothie and re-hash the games.

They both greeted Cassie, cheering and hugging when she told them that she would be starting for the basketball team. The bell shrieked at them and the trio entered their algebra classroom together.

Three weeks later, Cassie sat on the wooden bench in the locker room, her white “Home” jersey already damp with sweat from her warm-up. She held her face between her hands. Around her were the sounds of lockers slamming shut, girls laughing, yelling, lacing up their shoes. Music thumped just outside the locker room as the cheerleaders did some routine on the court that Cassie would never get to see. Her gut felt like someone had punched her, and she was out of breath despite not moving at all.

The door opened, the music got louder for just a moment, and Coach Bailey stepped in. Cassie admired how calm and collected she looked. Like she’d done this same thing a thousand times. Then again, Cassie realized, she probably had.

“Ladies, listen up.”

The chatter immediately stopped. Benches skidded on the stone floor for a moment. A locker door creaked shut.

“First game of the year, tonight.”

The assembled girls cheered, letting out some of the nervous tension that flooded all of their veins.

“I’d hate to interrupt any pregame rituals, so I’ll make this quick.”

The girls laughed.

“Don’t get too caught up in stats and records. It’s the first game of the year! If you’re gonna make silly mistakes, it’s best to get them out now. If you’re gonna forget your number, better make it today. If you’re gonna backtalk your coach, keep your mouths shut.” She smiled as her players grinned. “But above all else today, try and have some fun.”

She pulled the door open and waved her arm for the girls to line up and start their official warm-up.

The sounds blared in Cassie’s ears, louder than they should be. The lights on the scoreboard ticked down the last three minutes until game time. Her friends all sat in the stands chatting and cheering. The band blasted an upbeat tune. She made both her layups and both of the jump shots she took during warm ups. Her muscles started to relax, sounds began dimming to their appropriate levels. When the buzzer went off to signal game time, Cassie was loose and smiling, chatting with her teammates. Everything felt right when she was on the court, when she was playing.

The referees assembled the starting ten players, telling them to make sure they played smart and safe. They exchanged handshakes and went to the center of the court for the opening tip-off.

Cassie took a deep breath. She was a varsity player! Even more amazing, she was starting as a sophomore! Taking another deep breath, Cassie gazed over the crowd one last time, and settled into an athletic stance. The ball went up, two girls left the court, and her varsity career began.

Be sure to tune in to the next issue of Athens MOVE to read more about how Ricky’s football team and Cassie’s basketball team finish out their seasons. You’ll also hear more about Mick’s quiz bowl meets and his first 5K, a charity benefit race that he, Ricky, and Cassie decide to run together.

Clint Foster is a Georgia native and up-and-coming author.
You can find out more about him at www.clint-foster.com and ‘like’ him at www.facebook.com/ClintFosterAuthor.

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